Friday 5 February 2010

The Wise Guys (Matthew 2:1-12)

Road Trip

Have you ever been on a road trip? Do you know what a road trip is?
A bunch of guys crammed into a car and just driving off into the unknown.

Every once in a while that's what we'll do. J, D, WM, P - we just have this instinctive drive to head off into the sunset. We don't know where we're going, but we know we need to get there fast!

Girls - they don't get this. For them, a trip is all about the destination, accommodation - a checklist of things to do, sights to see. Planning every detail so that everything stays on schedule, on budget.

But for guys, we just head out. No idea where we're going - Just Go! Go! Go! And maybe an hour later someone says, Go where? Where are we headed dude? No idea!
No map - 'cos we don't need them. We never get lost - we 're just in-between destinations.

Now today's passage is really for the guys. I'll try to explain as best as I can to the girls, slowly so that you can understand. But what we have here are a bunch of guys who have headed off into the wilderness on a Road trip. Woohooo!

They're called the Magi. The English Standard Version calls them wise men. But I like to call them, the "Wise Guys".
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,
Magi (or Wise Guys) from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
"Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
3 things we need to note about the Magi. They were:
  1. Outsiders
  2. Outcasts
  3. Out of their minds


Number 1: They were Outsiders. Meaning: they were from out of town. Now I know it says in the bible "they came from the East" - but sadly, this does not mean they were Chinese. (Where is the der wan born the King of Juice!). No, they were not Chinese.

Many scholars think they were from Persia, Babylon or Arabia, countries that were east of Jerusalem. Whichever it was, the point is, this was not a day trip. The Wise Guys didn't just hop on their camels for a weekend away in Milton Keynes. This was a journey that took at least a month. Weeks of travelling through mountains and deserts, following a star - a GPS (God's Providential Star) that only worked at night.

And when they arrived in Jerusalem, they would have looked strange to everyone else. Strange clothes, strange accent (Where is the wan borrn the KInG of the Jews), in a strange language. They didn't speak in Hebrew - we know this because of in verse 2 they ask for "King of the Jews".

In Jewish it is always "King of Israel" or Messiah or Christ. Only the outsiders, those who didn't know anything about the bible, only Gentiles referred to Jesus as "King of the Jews".

So that's the first point, the Wise Guys were strangers, foreigners, outsiders.


But more importantly - number 2: they were Outcasts. The Magi were not friends of the Jews.
Rather, the bible is full of examples of Magi being enemies of the people of God.

The exact same word, "Magi" is found in the Old Testament. And there, they are always the villains, the bad guys. Now you won't find the word Magi if you tried flipping through your bible. That is because, in books like Daniel and Exodus, the word "magician" is used.

You see, the Magi, or magicians were outcasts to the people of God because they practised sorcery and magic that was offensive to God. They were experts in sorcery, fortune-telling and astrology. Notice how they used astrology, the stars to determine the birth of the King.
Revelation 21:8 says that God reserves judgement on the cowardly, unbelieving, vile, murderers, sexually immoral (and) those who practice magic arts. This is a timely reminder a week away from Halloween.

The Magi were outcasts in Israel, abominations to the God of Israel. So, we need to ask ourselves, what are these guys doing here?

Out of their minds

The answer is: Out of their minds!
"Hey! Look at that cool star!"
"Where do you think it's going?"
"Dunno! but it's Awesome"
"Let's follow it"
"Awesome!! Road trip!"
So off they go, following this star by night until it leads them all the way to Jerusalem. Then suddenly, no more star. GPS gets switched off.
Now Wise Guys have to do the most humiliating, the most degrading thing a man can ever do on a road trip.
They have to stop and they have to ask .... for directions!

What is even more amazing is this, and I love this about the Wise Guys, is who they ask the directions from:
They ask the present king where they can find his replacement.

Let's say tomorrow morning, you are at your desk at work, starting the week, booting up your computer to check your emails

and a bunch of strange smelly dudes turn up saying, "Hi, I heard you're gonna fired soon, so sorry about that, but could you tell me how we can find the guy who is going to take your job. We want to throw him a big surprise party" And you see that they've brought pizza, 6 packs of coke, and one of those huge balloon's which say "AWESOME".
Verse 3: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.
Meaning: he was not happy!
Now who is this King Herod? We find out 3 things:
  • He was concerned
  • He was clever
  • and he was crafty (meaning really sneaky)

In history, this was Herod the Great - Famous for huge construction projects. I mean, this guy rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem. Some even called it Herod's Temple.

But Herod the Great was also Herod the Greatly Feared! Nobody messed around with this guy. If he didn't get along with you, you were dead! He killed his brother-in-law, Aristobulus III at 18 years old because he thought he might be made king, he killed his wife Mariamne thinking she was cheating on him, he even killed his own sons.


But King Herod wasn't impulsive. He was concerned about this news yes, but he was also a clever guy. These Magi might have called him the King of the Jews, but Herod knows they are really talking about the Christ. This was the prophecy about the chosen King of Israel. God's chosen King.
Verse 4:
... He called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law,
he asked them where the Christ was to be born.

In short, Herod organised a conference. That's what he did - New Word Alive, SEEC. He got together all his wise men. Not just the priests - but the chief priests. Not just lawyers - but the teachers of the law.

Everyone with a degree, masters and PhD - Herod assembled them in one place to answer one question. Where is the Christ supposed to be born. None of that hocus-pocus, magic-trickery. This was a meeting of the minds.

This was a search through the Scriptures. And verse 5 tells us, they found the answer they were looking for:
"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied.
But wait there's more. You ever meet the kind of guy who's not happy proving he is the smartest person in the room - he's also keen to show why he is the smartest guy in the room?

That's verse 6:
"For this is what the prophet has written:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah
Are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
They end the conference with a bang! Stuart Townend is singing "In Bethlehem alone", "Oh to see the Bethlehem" - everyone is saying how this is the best conference ever. Thank you everyone for making it such a success.

There's a passage in John chapter 5 when Jesus tells the crowd,
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.
These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Here are the intellectuals, the Cambridge students of the day, rejoicing in their ability to read God's word, to teach God's word. We are the real Wise Guys!

Jesus says, they are fools! They are dead in their sin. They think they have life.
But really they are too proud to come to him, the source of eternal life.

Is it possible that we can be so familiar with the bible, so familiar with church, with Christianity,
that we can point others to Jesus, but we ourselves are lost.
The bible says "Of course!"

This isn't a warning just for those intellectual types - PhDs and Profs. Not us, we're just ordinary folk.
Notice, how Matthew calls them "the people's chief priests, and the people's teachers of the law". Or verse 3 - Herod responded in fear. All Jerusalem responded in fear.

This is the pride of the whole city. We have got the true king. We have got the right kind of bibles, the right kind of church, the right kind of teaching. It is pride by association.

Verse 7:
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
Now, Herod takes control. I'm the King here. I give the orders.

He calls them into his palace and he sends them to do his work.

Find out exactly where this child is.
And when you do, your first priority is to report back to me.

(And here's the bit that's really sneaky!) So that I too may go and worship him.

That's Herod for you. The guy knows how to talk the talk.
Concerned, Clever and very Crafty.

The unimpressive guys

But as for our Wise Guys, I think they would have been very confused. What's going on?

We came here to look for the King. This is the city of Kings, Jerusalem. It looks like the right place but everything feels wrong.

And I wonder how many of us set off on our own journeys looking for God only to be sidetracked. We start out with sincere motives, but it's not long before we get taken in by the impressive and the spectacular. You see it every year in Cambridge. Surrounded by great ambition, great achievement. Yet underneath it hides great pride and great insecurity. Always needing to prove you're number one. Having to justify your existence, To give the right answer. Here in Cambridge, everyone can be King. Everyone wants to be great.

Like the Magi, maybe some of us have to put greatness behind us before we start to get a glimpse of God.
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Magi are just stepping out of Jerusalem, they just left the palace, it's all behind them...and boom! Right in front of them. It's the star! They are back on track. GPS working again.

When they saw it,(verse 10) they were overjoyed! The ESV says this, "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy!" There are high fives and giving each other chest bumps. One of them is doing the victory dance. They were overjoyed.

Immediately, I mean the very second they got over their excitement and the awesomeness of the event, they must have got right on their camels and chased that star. They're thinking, I'm not letting that star out of sight. No way, we're going to lose it this time. We have come this far, we are going to get there!

And the star goes on and on before them, leading them to Bethlehem, then into the city, through the streets until it comes right on top, right there like a spotlight, shining down... to where Jesus is. And nothing could have prepared them for what they saw next.

It wasn't a palace. No servants. Here they were in a small town. In front of a small house. And they see a kid, two year old at the most with his mommy. You have reached your destination. This is the King.

And they worshipped him. They fell faced down to the ground and honoured the True King of Israel.

This is madness! What are they doing?

I read this and I try to imagine what it must have looked like to Mary, Jesus' mother. Joseph's away, it's just me and Jesus tonight. Maybe I'll turn in early get a good night's sleep. Out of nowhere this entourage of foreigners come riding in on their camels stop right in front of our door.

And next thing I know, they're worshipping our baby. They open this huge chest and start presenting him with gold, incense and myrrh. This is just insane.

To so many people this just looks insane. Crazy. But what I'm hoping is some of you will look at this today and see this is AWESOME. This is wonderful. You look at this and say, I want to do this.

I want to be able to run to Jesus. I want the excitement of knowing he's there waiting for me. And when I see him, I want to fall on my knees saying Lord, take everything that I have and all that I am. I want to be that guy.

Jesus says in Matthew 8:11 onwards
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus is saying Heaven is going to be full of the wrong kinds of people. Outsiders, outcasts. Out-of-their minds - but because of their humility and faith - honoured - they will be honoured. You see this all throughout Jesus' ministry, he is constantly surrounded by the wrong kind of people. Sinners and tax-collectors.

You look at the Magi, these Wise Guys and so many things about them are just wrong.
  • They have the wrong background
  • They use the wrong terminology

And yet, they teach us so much that is right:
  • They don't know a whole lot about God, but they seek him anyway
  • They are not afraid to ask, to find out more, to admit they don't have all the answers
  • They rejoice in God's greatness and not their own

We prefer to follow the King's of these world. They lead us to greatness.
But maybe we should consider following the Wise Guys, because they lead us to Christ.

Meeting God

Most of all, the Magi teach us what it means to truly meet God.
How do you know you have met God? That you have truly encountered the living God?
Today's passage says:
  • You meet him in weakness
  • You meet him in the joy of worship

Verse 6: " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

Do you hear that? God says, the Christ will have humble beginnings. He will be born in Bethlehem.

That's like saying, "Anglia Ruskin, you are by no means least in the land of Cambridge and Oxford".
That's like saying the next Prime Minister is a graduate from Cambridge... Regional College.

It's Bethlehem. Not Jerusalem where you will find the Christ. In a house not a palace.
A 2-year old kid having his nappy changed by his mommy. Not King Herod the Great surrounded by the professors and priests.

For Christians, we meet God in the weakness of the cross. Dying not living. Insulted and not exalted. Humble and not proud. You see Jesus hanging on the cross, gasping for his last breath. And you say there is my King.

You meet God in weakness. You meet him at the cross.

But secondly, you meet God in worship.
You know what worshipping God means? It's giving to God all that he is worth. And the question you have to answer at the end of the day is, what is God worth to you?

The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is like a guy who finds a treasure in field, and then in his joy goes away and sells all he has! He doesn't go erm, I like this, or maybe this, or maybe this. He says, takes it all, please I just need to sell everything I have, so that I can have this true treasure.

Is God your true treasure. Is he worthy of your worship, your gold, your offering, your very lives.

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